Walter "Shakey" Horton (1917-1981)
He defined modern amplified Chicago-style harmonica
Big Walter Horton or Walter "Shakey" Horton (April 6, 1917– December
8, 1981) was an American blues harmonica player. Born Walter Horton in Horn
Lake, Mississippi, he was playing a harmonica by the time he was five years
old. In his early teens, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee and claimed that his
earliest recordings were done there in the late 1920s with the
Memphis Jug Band,
although there is no documentation, and many have since disputed this claim.
As with many of his peers, he spent much of his career existing on a meagre
income and living with constant discrimination in a segregated America. In the
1930s he played with various blues performers across the Mississippi delta
region. It's generally accepted that his first recordings were made in Memphis,
backing guitarist Little Buddy Doyle on recordings for the Okeh and Vocalion
Records labels, in 1939. These recordings were in the acoustic duo format
Sleepy John Estes
with his harmonicist
among others. On these recordings, Walter's style is not yet fully realized,
but there are clear hints of what is to come. He eventually stopped playing
the harp for a living due to poor health, and worked mainly outside of music
in the 1940s. By the early 1950s, he was playing music again, and was among
the first to record for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, who would
later record rock and roll superstars Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and country
giant Johnny Cash. The early Big Walter recordings from Sun include performances
from a young Phineas Newborn, Jr. on piano, who later gained fame as a jazz
pianist. During the early 1950s he first appeared on the Chicago blues scene,
where he frequently played with fellow Memphis and Delta musicians who had also
moved north, including guitarists
Eddie Taylor and
Johnny Shines. When
Junior Wells left the
band at the end of 1952, Horton replaced him in
band long enough to play on one session with
in January of 1953. Big Walter's style had by then fully matured,
and he was playing in the heavily amplified style that became one of the
trademarks of the Chicago blues sound. His harmonica playing is characterized
by a deep, rich tone, and precise articulation, using the full register of the
harp and utilizing the higher notes of the harp with great dexterity. His tone
was consistently deeper or heavier than
but with phrasing that was more in keeping with the Memphis traditions, and
less adventurous and improvisational than the jazzier explorations employed by
his chief harmonica rival
He also made great use of techniques such as tongue-blocking. Many blues
harmonica aficionados consider Horton's solo on
1956 Chess recording Walking By Myself to be his greatest moment, and a
high point of post-war Chicago blues. Also known as "Mumbles", and
"Shakey" because of his head motion while playing the harmonica,
Horton was active on the Chicago blues scene during the 1960s as blues music
gained popularity with white audiences. From the early 1960s onward, he recorded
and appeared frequently as a sideman with
and many others. He toured extensively, usually as a backing musician, and in
the 1970s he performed at blues and folk festivals in the U.S. and Europe,
Chicago Blues All-Stars. He has also appeared as a guest on recordings by blues
and rock stars such as Fleetwood Mac and
In the late 1970's he toured the country with
Homesick James Williamson,
Richard Molina, Bradley Pierce Smith and Paul
Nebenzahl, and appeared on National Public Radio broadcasts. His musical output
was somewhat inconsistent over the course of his career, unpredictably wavering
between brilliant and workmanlike, and much of his best work was done as a
sideman. Some of the best compilations of his own work are Mouth-Harp Maestro
and Fine Cuts. Also notable is the low-key but excellent Big Walter Horton and
album released by Alligator Records in 1972
(quoted from wikipedia.org)
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Walter "Shakey" Horton Tribute Pages
Walter "Shakey" Horton tribute page at myspace.com.
Biographical Information on Walter "Shakey" Horton
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography at bluesharp.ca.
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography at afgen.com.
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography at bluesnet.hub.org.
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography at the-blindman.com.
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography and photo by Glenn Weiser.
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography by Daisy Goodman.
Walter "Shakey" Horton biography at musicianguide.com.
Walter "Shakey" Horton Photos
Walter "Shakey" Horton photo at jazzphotography.us.
Walter "Shakey" Horton Videos
Big Walter 'Shakey' Horton - Shakey's Blues (1965). Runtime 02:58.
Walter Horton. Runtime 02:38.
Big Walter Horton - Walter's Blues. Runtime 03:11.
Jimmy Rogers & Big Walter Mexico City 1979. Runtime 02:58.
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